Conan the Barbarian (UK - BD RB)
Chris crushes his enemies, sees them driven before him, and, oh, wrong film...
Conan the Barbarian was born on the battlefield. From those blood soaked beginnings, the fledgling warrior is destined to venture into an unforgiving world after his father is brutally murdered and his village destroyed. As he journeys through a world rife with terrifying monsters, sorcerers and bloodthirsty enemies, he chances upon Khalar Zym – the warlord responsible for his tribe’s destruction. And so Conan’s quest to avenge his father begins... (Taken from the Lionsgate synopsis.)
I caught a theatrical screening of this reboot of the film series popularised by Arnold Schwarzenegger and found it sporadically entertaining, but still came away relatively unimpressed. Unfortunately the second time around I found it duller than dishwater. For a film about a Cimmerian barbarian with a penchant for hacking people to pieces, Conan the Barbarian is a surprisingly dismal affair, with laboured action sequences and a plot littered with logical lapses. However, the main problem is that anyone playing the role of Conan was always going to be compared to the Austrian Oak, and while Momoa is a better actor than Arnold he doesn’t have an ounce of his screen presence. The rest of the cast are similarly ineffectual, save for perhaps Stephen Lang's Khalar Zym, but even his over the top performance gets tiresome. Tragically it’s yet another film to feature a phoned in cameo from Ron Pearlman who, it seems, will do any old shit for money. On the plus side Conan is satisfyingly violent (gratuitously so at times), but the action builds towards a tremendous anti-climax the result of which is a crushingly hollow cinematic experience.
With that said, there is a fun drinking game to be had here. Simply stock up on your chosen poison, and every time a character holds their arms aloft and roars, take a drink. If they're holding something, drink twice. I guarantee you’ll be smashed by the end.
As a recent theatrical release you’d expect Conan the Barbarian to look nothing short of fantastic on Blu-ray, and for the most part the 2.40:1 (1080/24p AVC) image delivers. The film has a muted colour palette, with flat contrast that makes everything look quite dull. This appears to be a stylistic choice, although I’d be lying if I said I can remember exactly what it looked like at the cinema (and the quality of screenings at my local cinema isn’t great anyway). Things look pretty respectable within the confines of this rather limited colour scheme; we first visit Conan's homeland in the grip of winter, with its icy, snow-capped mountains and frozen plains, but as our hero’s quest progresses this gives way to earthen tones, leafy greens and overall warmer hues. Detail is generally very good, although I wouldn’t go as far as to call it spectacular. Close-ups reveal fine texturing, but wider shots can look a little bit fuzzy. The image is very clean though, with no obvious film or digital artefacts, and grain is unobtrusive. Those of you who have been reading my reviews long enough might be familiar with my opposition to ‘numbered’ scoring systems, as I dislike assigning a largely arbitrary value to things. In this case I couldn’t decide between an eight and a nine for the video score, but in an uncharacteristic fit of generosity I eventually went with the higher mark. I'm not hugely enamoured of the film's 'drab' look, but on reflection it seemed churlish to penalise the Blu-ray for that.
The disc also includes a 3D version of the feature, but as I haven't invested in the necessary technology I was unable to view it.
Another Lionsgate release, and yet another DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track. Things get off to a good start as Morgan Freeman's voice-over give way to the sounds of battle, which fill the soundstage with clashing swords and the sickening sound of steel rending flesh. The mix continues to impress with strong atmospherics, such as the sound of the wind whistling through the forest near Conan’s village, or bustling crowd scenes. There are plenty of neat discrete effects, from the sound of trees whipping past as the young Conan races through the forest, to the sound of horses galloping towards the village, arrows flying overhead, and boulders rolling downhill. A particular highlight is the battle with the sand monsters, which is a flurry of activity as they burst forth from the ground in a shower of sand, hurling blades through the air. The fight with the multi-tentacled water monster and the climactic showdown with Khalar Zym and his psychotic daughter also impress. Bass is surprisingly restrained for the most part, but it gets its chance during the aforementioned set-pieces, during which it provides ample ‘oomph’. The film's score is fitting, if unmemorable, but it has a tendency to overpower the other elements, often eclipsing the dialogue. Adjusting the overall volume to compensate for the unintelligible vocals had the unwanted effect of making the rear channels unbearably loud, so it seems to me that the track has a few balancing issues. It’s still a pretty decent mix, but I'm getting a little tired of tracks that marginalise dialogue in favour of the other elements so I've marked it down. Didn't take me long to return to my usual grumpy form.
First up we have a pair of commentary tracks, the first with director Marcus Nispel and the second with actors Jason Momoa and Rose McGowan. Nispel's track is a stop-start affair that lacks the sort of insight found in the best commentaries, but it's worth listening to at least once. The actors track is a bit more enjoyable thanks to the presence of two participants, which allows for a free-flowing track filled with on-set anecdotes and easy conversation. A series of featurettes come next. 'The Conan Legacy' (18:01 HD) discusses the inspiration for the film and provides some character background, 'Robert E. Howard: The Man Who Would Be Conan' (11:24 HD) is a biography of the author, 'Battle Royal: Engineering the Action' (09:55 HD) focusses on fight choreography, and 'Staging the Fights' (05:47 HD) offers a split-screen view of pre-viz and rehearsal footage. This section is capped off with the theatrical trailer (02:16 HD). Although a bit meatier than I was expecting, the extras lack a comprehensive making of to really flesh things out. Still, they are (sadly) better than the stuff found on most discs today.
I’m not a huge fan of the original Conan films, so please don’t think that my negative feelings towards this version have their roots in nostalgia. No, the truth is that the film fails on its own merits. It’s very much a film of its time, just as the old movies were, but I guess I just prefer the camp excess of the eighties to the slick, over-produced movies of the new millennia. Don’t get me wrong, I like boobs and brawn as much as the next guy, but would it have hurt to throw a little brain in there (stop sniggering at the back)? Technically the Blu-ray is pretty sound, but one or two unexpected issues took the shine off of things for me. Although the visuals are very good they aren’t spectacular - even if I can't quite put my finger on why - and the audio mix sounded unbalanced to my ears (and those of my wife). The extras don't really bring anything new or exciting to the table either. This is a decent disc if you're a fan of the film, but I can't see it converting too many people.
* Note: The images below are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Chris Gould
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 12th December 2011
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 English
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Extras: Audio Commentaries, Featurettes, Theatrical Trailer
Easter Egg: No
Director: Marcus Nispel
Cast: Jason Momoa, Stephen Lang, Rachel Nichols, Ron Perlman, Rose McGowan
Genre: Action, Adventure and Fantasy
Length: 113 minutes
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